Sears Canada has named Toronto agency The Unitas Reputation Agency as its new creative agency of record. It replaces incumbent BBDO, which had held the account for four years.
“As part of our transformation in the company… we wanted to look at all our marketing suppliers and partners to see how we can make these companies fit or not fit,” Chris Brockbank, senior vice-president marketing at Sears Canada, told Marketing.
Anne Sutherland of NewThinking moderated the invitation-only two-month review. A shortlist was not disclosed.
Brockbank said having a third-party arbitrator allowed Sears to keep the process “private, controlled and organized.”
Unitas founder Mike Robitaille said the review consisted of a phone discussion to sound out basic capabilities and two in-person meetings, neither of which included spec creative.
The review “was really very focused on what we were capable of as an agency in terms of value we could create for Sears,” said Robitaille.
“Sears was looking for a partner and as much as that’s an overused word in this business, that’s really what this whole process was designed to create,” he said.
Brockbank said it’s his personal practice not to ask agencies for spec creative. “We were careful not to be taxing on the agencies. We wanted to spend the time to make sure they understand the transformational work that we’ve got underway at Sears and whether they want to be part of that.
“This is not a creative execution – it’s a brand re-architecture discussion… We needed to have a partner that would sit and work with us on that. Asking for creative without having a discussion on what brand work needs to be done would be a little ridiculous,” he said.
Sears had only just hired media agency Vizeum Canada when Brockbank started with the chain’s marketing department six months ago. He said Sears is extremely pleased with the work it’s done thus far.
“We won’t be expanding the review, but continue to talk and work with our partners on a daily basis to ensure they’re all committed to the transformation as we are, as employees of Sears,” he said.
In addition to external branding and communications, Unitas will also work with Sears to generate greater enthusiasm among the chain’s employees. “Sears has 30,000 employees and recognizing them as a marketing asset is a huge part of what’s going to help Sears get to a place where it’s achieving its business goals,” said Robitaille. “Internal communications is more than a newsletter.”
Robitaille said the agency is in the first phase of strategy and platform development with no hard date yet set for the launch of new marketing materials.
Unitas currently employs 14 full-time employees. Robitaille said the roster will “expand rather dramatically” as the planning process continues.
Hiring a new creative agency is one of many steps Sears is taking to woo back consumers and better position itself in the increasingly competitive Canadian retail landscape.
On Friday Sears officially unveiled its new, refreshed store concept in four Ontario locations: Barrie, Belleville, Newmarket and Hamilton. Changes include wider aisles and streamlined merchandise offerings.
Sears Canada president and CEO Calvin McDonald – a former Loblaw exec who’s been in Sears’ big chair for less than a year – has set a three-year plan in motion to give the department store a makeover. There is a perception in the industry that Sears has become outdated and unable to compete with rivals such as the soon-to-arrive Target.
In a recent interview with Marketing, McDonald said the department store chain is shifting its focus to what he calls “key hero categories” such as major appliances, mattresses and furniture.
McDonald added that the tone of Sears’ advertising has changed and become much more focused in recent months.
“One of the ways you get credit for value is making sure that your price communication is done in a more clear, concise manner, so we’ve simplified our price communication in our flyer,” he said.
McDonald has even taken a page from Loblaw’s marketing textbook with the introduction of a quarterly oversized flyer (similar in nature to the President’s Choice Insider’s Report) called the Look Report.
“It’s very focused on fashion and apparel and a bit of home… and how it connects to the in-store experience,” he said.